Making the statement that we are on the brink of big changes due to the Internet is a dangerous statement. Many before have said this and many prophesies have been proved wrong. Dangerous territory.
My first steps on the Internet were in 1987. It was a terrible interface: sending messages to list-servers to get information back. Very little was to find out how the Internet worked and pretty steep connection rates (the company where I was doing my graduation project for was not amused, as it turned out later). Some time later I found Gopher that had a little bit of the browsing experience but than text based. But despite all the awkwardness: I loved it. The fact that you could get real time information about all kind of subjects, have a discussion with lots of people about a subject. It made you realise that there is a world out there waiting to be discovered.
Much has already been said Moore’s law (doubling of computing power), Metcalfe’s law (one on one connections in a network, N to the power of 2) to Reed’s law (connections within and between groups of all sizes within a network (2 to the power of N). If we look at the growth of communities on the Internet than we really do see an explosion. Many people on the Internet regularly communicate with others through various social networks they are part of. Pockets of overlapping communities is becoming mainstream in the use of Internet. Looking back at the previous communities like “De Digitale Stad” and the Well, it is clear to see that this was, due tot the technical limitations, much more seperate communities.
And a lot has changed. Internet has changed the way we work much more than we sometimes realize. The way I handle information has changed a lot. The way I communicatie with others is quite different since I started working in 1989 when E-mail was not available on a lare scale in businesses. I think because 10 or 15 year is a long time in human life that we only see the incremental changes. But when we would be forced to work again the way we worked in 1990 we would for certain get frustrated by the lack of communication channels and the awkward way of finding information.
Communities in all kinds of flavor will be the driving force of our society for the coming years. People will always remain people, good and bad. But our limitations and possibilities in the Internet are fundamentally different. Distribution is practically free, there is an unlimited memory of our past actions and everybody and all knowledge is just a few keystrokes away.
Since in communities we are all consumer as well as the producer of content we may paraphrase Marshall McLuhan that in the future “the community is the message“.